I think I’m getting soft in my old age. I remember huddles of grown ups warning me of this as a child, whenever a sympathetic bank commercial played or a teary-eyed celebrity thanked her mother in a grandiose acceptance speech. “Someday you’ll understand,” they’d say to me, carefully dabbing beneath their mascara. “Someday you’ll cry at silly things too.”
But I was resilient. I refused to believe that I, too, was vulnerable to their weaknesses. Even as a kid I was aware, however subconscious, that betraying emotion negated worth. This would be reinforced later, in the workplace, in relationships, even in the theatre. Only amateurs admired the ability to cry on command; only neophytes were full of so much water that the smallest of prompts could wilt them, like vases filled up to the top. True actors were made of steel, disciplined. Whatever proud soul emoted the most but cried the least was the actor who won the respect of the room.
To cry was to lose the stitching of that human fabric weaving us all together, to reveal your tears was to mine for your most precious treasure - like a deep sea diver recovering pearls from the briny wombs of stubborn oysters. It was the highest card in the hand, and the timing of its play was crucial.
I once loved a man who never cried. In his darkest and cruelest of spells he would boast that he was “too soft” for this world and that I “couldn’t understand,” as if there was a riddle to life that only he knew the answer to. The same man who could reap a harvest of obscenities from the fields of flowers I sewed with my trembling tongue… “How can I believe you if you’re crying?” He’d say, and in the same breath I’d be accused, “It can’t have hurt that bad, you’re not even crying.”
Tears became currency, the same way sex did. The gods of “gender” demanded different prices; for the dom and sub in each exchange there was a unique balance of worth. In his eyes I had too much water in me to be trusted... so I drowned us in it. He was “too soft” to swim, bloated with poison, and the river dried around him.
The water is still in me, but now it’s a well, and anger is the only vein in my earth that has access to it. I can maneuver and absorb the greater sadnesses of life - like rain on a dead flower, the dirt spilling over the edges of it’s round clay pot, the little white beads floating in a murky black puddle - there’s nothing growing in there, so there’s nothing to kill.
But anger is alive. Her thrashing current has only grown stronger, and louder, with time. She is the river and the one who moves me. It comes over me slowly, starting in the throat. The air in my lungs gets warmer and harder to breathe. Roots grow over my neck, I can hear the earth around them fall on my collarbone as they reach higher and higher, digging into my skin, tightening under my jaw. My words come out stilted, like a record skipping, or a song switched off. All I can think is no, please, not now… And the feeling is hot, patchy, like sunburned freckles; a slippery pinch of flesh on the wrist in a sprinkler-soaked summer, testing your resilience to pain with the milky-limbed neighbor boys, their voices taunting, their eyes already leering. “I bet you can’t,” they say. We used to call them “Indian burns” and see who could endure the most without flinching. I always used to win.
But not anymore. One grimace, one heartbeat in your eye, and you’ve lost. You’ve given up your defense. Because nobody believes you when you cry. Even if it’s from anger. Look in the river… the rocks at the bottom are the softest.